TV on the Radio won Pazz + Jop…last week!

January 27, 2009 at 6:38 pm (2008 in review, Awards and honors, Lists, Music)

This year's Pazz + Jop cover

This year's Pazz + Jop cover

Pazz and Jop results were posted a whole week ago, and are thus old news in the blogosphere. But this here blog will be launching its best-of-2008 feature in February 2009, for reasons as diffuse as I’ve been sick for half of January, or I have a job and a life to maintain, or I have actual deadlines to meet, or it’s my fucking tiny pocket of the web and I can do whatever the fuck I want with it. Besides, the Internet makes history immediate, and as long as Christgau’s comprehensive website is running, Pazz & Jop (now Pazz + Jop, apparently), the Village Voice’s annual music critic’s poll, offers a historical snapshot of the year just past. Like most historical snapshots dictated by the whims of a small, fairly insular group, P&J can be infuriating and baffling, but the attempts of rock-criterati to make sense, even achieve consensus, of music-in-whatever-year is reliably enthralling.

Back in August, I boldly stated that Lil’ Wayne, an unctuous and unappealing goofball fooling the populace and the media into believing he’s the new rap phenom, had this year’s contest all sewn up. But then again, in August 2007, I said the same about Arcade Fire, and they finished fifth. Well, Weezy finished sixth. In fact, after a couple photo finishes, this year’s P&J was a runaway: TV on the Radio’s Dear Science won, trouncing second-place finishers Vampire Weekend. I’d expected VW to finish lower, but the backlash machine has already cast them aside for the fresher meat of fourth-place finishers Fleet Foxes. Over in the singles ranking, thanks to the always controversial carryover votes (explained in this essay), the sixth best single of 2007 is now the best single of 2008. And why the fuck not? When I would hear “Paper Planes” in 2007, it was generally of my choosing. But in 2008, I heard “Paper Planes” everywhere: not just bars and clubs, but waiting to pick up wings at suburban take-out joints. Eight of the top ten singles are indisputably enjoyable (save Coldplay’s Satriani rip and Weezy’s tribute to Audrey Tautou), and even more impressive, the top three are all by (and about) non-white women. Though I’d be even more tickled if one of T.I.’s masterful pop-rap triad made the top 10 (all made the top 30), but I guess they split the vote. I won’t go too far in to my personal thrills and grievances about either list, as those will be self-evident once the forthcoming best-of-2008 posts materialize.

As far as the essays,  Andy Beta draws some no-you-didn’t parallels between Obama’s landslide and TVOTR’s. I’d hardly compare 53% of American voters electing a black man to 154 rock critics extolling four black art-rockers under the auspices of a white genius-auteur producer, but then again, Dear Science left me shrugging as often as it left me grooving, so what do I know. Frankly, I won’t buy that Dear Science has achieved any sort of victory, symbolic or otherwise, until “Crying” or “Golden Age” shares airspace and chartspace with Nickelback, Rihanna and yes, Lil’ Wayne. Painstakingly intellectual, self-consciously challenging music is a hit with the crits. Go figure!

Simon Reynolds achieves a more fitting Obama parallel with the distant runners-up, the infinitely divisive Vampire Weekend. His perceptive bullshit detector in high gear, Reynolds turns hipster-elitist objections to VW on their ear (you hate them because you are them), and describes both the band’s sound and subversion with more insight and eloquence than any of the thousand VW scribblings I’ve encountered in the last year, my own included.

In her sporadically brilliant essay, Clover Hope joins the chorus of women yelling “misogynist” at Kanye, foolishly overlooking the feminist sympathies that tempered so much of his pre-808s work (“Gold Digger,” “All Falls Down,” “The New Workout Plan”), and make 808s such an unnerving transformation. Patriarchal self-awareness, the acknowledgement not just of hostile feelings but guilt over that hostility, not to mention the context of his previous oeuvre, is Kanye’s missed-in-this-essay point. Speaking of missing points, given the monumental sexual-racial component of the top three singles, and how each can reflect upon the other (and yes, the Other), not to mention how all three were hits, Rob Harvilla makes nothing but superficiality of 2008’s most beloved (and meaningful) singles. And I’ve read enough essays failing to convince me of Lil’ Wayne and Bon Iver’s respective greatness (easily the two weakest links in the Top Ten albums) to just avoid Briehan’s and Fennessey’s essays entirely.

So another Pazz & Jop put to rest, I guess. I miss Christgau, but I always do. I’ve followed Pazz & Jop since I was about twelve, and being successful enough to get invited is one of my before-I-turn-30 goals. Hopefully, I haven’t burned too many bridges here. One final note: No. 41 on the count is Beck’s Modern Guilt; to my ears, Beck’s best album since Midnite Vultures. Yet it’s Beck first proper album not to make the P&J Top 40 (i.e. the published-in-print results, whatever that’s worth, and the archived-on-Xgau’s site results, which is worth more).

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